Why Keep Going?

I’m sure that some of you authors-in-training are out there asking yourself this question and it is a legitimate one; especially if you have been chiseling away at your craft, learning the business, reading in your genre, watching Twitter posts and participating in a myriad of workshops, pitch wars and all that is the writing life. And after saying all of this I say, yes, keep going. Why? Well for one I am and here are the reasons.

Because all that information you have been gathering is going to culminate into your ‘ah ha’ moment and then it will all come together. I say that because that is what is beginning to happen to me after plugging away for years. You begin to see a pattern forming. You start to make connections between things. You notice a trend and then you say ‘Oh, so that’s what they meant.’

Now I am going to tell you something that everyone has told you: accept rejection and keep moving. I wrote an earlier post Why I Love My Rejection Letter that may help you get over the sting. At this point I take them in stride and look forward to getting them so that I can take that agent off my Excel spreadsheet and add another one. If you get feedback which unfortunately is rare, cherish that. I save those and try to apply what little morsels they dole out. I always try to thank those agents/editors in particular for taking the time to do that since they are very busy people.

But a pubbed writer and critique partner gave me the best advice: READ, READ, READ. Since I have a full time job and other responsibilites reading is very hard to fit into my schedule so I go to the Overdrive app for my local library and am reading a lot more. Believe me when I say it makes a H-U-G-E difference because you start to notice trends in structure, language and content that you can use in your own work.

Make your book the best you can make it before you send. At first I had issues with that but have learned I really have to take it as far as I can even if I end up being asked to revise it several more times. Be willing to do that work for the sake of the work and the reader. If you value what you do you won’t have any issues with revisions. It’s a win for all involved so be grateful for the suggestions and apply them.

I also suggest you not allow yourself to get discouraged until you have sent out at least 80 queries (and yes there are 80 agents/editors out there for your genre). It’s almost like job hunting – its a numbers game. I use the CWIM and also make sure I check the agency/publisher website in case something has changed. In the latest version Chuck has included some examples of first pages that several different agents critiqued and they all had differing reactions to the books. That was a big eye opener as to how subjective it is; all agents won’t view your book the same way and that is a good thing. It gives you hope that maybe there is one out there that will love it.

I try to research the agent to find out something about them personally and what they tweet, blog about so that I can get to know them before I submit. If I don’t find much I just approach them with the same respect and courtesy I would any new person I meet in business.

If you participate in online pitch wars make sure you work on the pitch in advance and use the most descriptive words you can; don’t be vague – you only get one shot at it (well maybe two in the 8 hr period but you know what I mean). It’s nice to get agent likes and that feels good so consider that a win as well even if you don’t get repped.

Well, I’ve got a conference to attend shortly so hope this advice helped and happy writing!

Querytopia: Are you there yet?

Now that I’ve finished my first MG book and sent out my first query, I await the forthcoming rejection. However, I am not afraid and look forward to placing it as the first in my inevitable stack that will prove that I’ve arrived.

Honestly, that’s a lie. No one wants to be rejected, but we have to accept the reality. So in order to reach what I call Querytopia, I have been making a detailed list of things that I want in an agent. It’s an exercise that is making me feel as if I am the one doing the inspecting (and it strokes the old ego too.).

First I got a copy of the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents. Next I read all the stuff in there I needed to know as prerequisites, then I began sifting through the list. I narrowed mine down to those that are:

1) Open to new / unpublished authors

2) Represent novels at least 50% (even better if they rep kids exclusively)

3) Are seeking ethnic or multicultural fiction

4) Rep authors I love (or know personally, because I do know a few)

5) Placed lots of books (or at least list what they’ve placed and with whom)

If this criteria is met, I visit the website to see if I like it. (Since I build websites the look of the site is important to me). I read the submission guidelines and make note of things I need to remember. I also note things that are missing, such as specifics for querying, not just telling me to send the query to an email address with no other information.

If the agency has an agent I follow on Twitter, that is a plus because I can troll the posts to see what they are discussing and if I like their personality. I also note if they do #tenqueries to see how they might ‘handle’ my submission (or manhandle it) 😦

If Twitter and FB icons are on the site I like that too. It makes it easy for me to find their agents.

I don’t care about what conferences they attend because the ones I attend tell me who is coming. I do care about things like additional fees for making copies for me ( uh… I think I can make my own copies if you send me a .pdf or zip file).

Once I have narrowed my list, I document everything in a spreadsheet and determine who will be the next lucky agent to get my manuscript! LOL. Flipping the script in this whole querying thing makes me feel so empowered, no wonder people become agents!

Postscript: Forgot the mention that I also check my choices against sites like Predators & Editors, QueryTracker, and AbsoluteWrite to get the inside scoop before I put an agent on the ‘legit’ list. Happy querying?

Are You A Passive Writer?

I’m not referring to your demeanor, I’m referring to your word choices. I was reading a blog about improving your scenes the other day and one thing it said was ‘did you notice the author didn’t use any passive verbs?’ Then I thought: “Hmm. Did I use any in my book?” So I hit my trusty Ctrl-F and searched for a few. One I used way too much is ‘looked’ or ‘looked like.’ So I cut them all out and found better ways to describe what something looked like or someone’s reaction. 

It made the passages a whole lot better! If you are getting passive (and now I do mean your demeanor) about using passive verbs. Go forth and annihilate them!

Manuscripts: Focus, focus, focus

One thing I have learned, and continue to learn, about putting together a manuscript is that it is not like writing a letter about something that happened to you or someone else. It is structured — whether you intend to do so or not. It has a beginning, middle and end of course, but there is so much more to it.

I’ve read lots of writing books (i.e., Writer’s Digest Great Fiction series, which I highly recommend, and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks) and from what I have ascertained, once the structure is in place, I can relax and just enjoy the writing part.

I was listening to an interview on Twitter with author Jill Santopolo and was happy to hear her co-sign the same approach I have added to my arsenal after reading the aforementioned references: to create the shell, and then fill it in. What does that mean? Well she didn’t say it that way exactly, but in a nutshell, you create an outline of each chapter so you know where you are going. It does not have to explain every little detail, just a basic sentence or two about what needs to happen. Then you can craft the direction you need to take so that you do not forget. Granted, I am a project manager so I am especially fond of clarity, direction and getting there properly — so sue me.

Anyway, here is an example: in James Scott Bell’s book Plot & Structure, he explains the ‘doors of no return.’ These doors are major events that thrust the protagonist forward in the story. Events that cause them to act — whether they want to or not. It’s fascinating reading and it really works! So putting this into practice I can ensure the story has direction, as well as conflict and excitement in all the right places. It’s not easy and I am still a novice at it, but the more I do it, the better my writing becomes.

You must admit, keeping kids’ attention these days is tough, so if you are going to write a kidlit book, it is crucial to use a methodology (uh oh, my PM hat again) that will keep them focusing on your book, not the XBox. 🙂

Middle Grade on a Mission!

Well I’m back after being VE-R-R-R-Y busy the last 30 days. As you know, I completed Susanna Leonard Hill’s PB class and now I am in Dashka Slater’s PB class! (yes I am a glutton for PB punishment!). But get this, I am also writing an MG novel! Yep, it’s a series called Halle Harris & The Truth Seekers — about 4 would-be sleuths who help classmates solve their problems. Want to hear my elevator pitch for the first one? OK here goes: Four sleuths-in-training trying to save a classmate from a bully could end up ruining her life. 

I don’t have a completion date…taking my time to get to know my characters and delve into the world of 11-year olds. More on that later.

I also won an award a few weeks ago — that’s one reason I’ve been MIA. It was for a cookbook I wrote, called The Real Book on How to Cook: Secrets mother never told you (amazon and b&n). It won ‘Best Cook Book’ at the African American Literary Awards in NYC. How cool is that? Readers nominate and vote so that makes it extra special.

Well, gotta go! 

In the home stretch…

We are now at Lesson 12! I know…this is moving at lightning speed for me too. LOL. But so far we have basically covered the main elements and are now focusing on the story approach…the theme, purpose, etc. for the character. This has made me decide to re-write my book and give my character more of a challenge  (btw after I realized my first PB was going to be w-a-y too long for a PB, I switched to another).

This new book is not new to me but it’s called In Search of Wonderlicious and is about a 6-year-old’s adventure at the library where her mother works. Her normal routine is to go there after school, read books and wait for her mom, but this day is different; this day she sees a book that is forbidden and she wants to read it! Stay tuned.

It’s ON!

Finally! The first day of the 30-days-to-my-first-PB-book session has begun! I apologize to those who read my other blog, writeafterwork because I have neglected it so terribly lately. But enough about that. We had our first assignment today and that is to create our character’s personality. This exercise was not new to me since I did something similar for the characters in my upcoming MG book, but it was still helpful because it forced me to really think about my new character, Bo James Jr. Who is he? What does he like/dislike? What is his motivation? So now I can use the additional information I ‘discovered’ about Bo to make adjustments to the story.

More to come!

PB Project Takes Off!

OK as many of you who follow me on WriteAfterWork know, I have been working on moving into the genre of children’s literature. I am following in the footsteps of my cousin, the late Virginia Hamilton, whose books were an inspiration to millions of kids.

I am not professing to be as good as Virginia, but I intend to make the family proud! My first book genre is PB or picture books and I want you to be there as I embark on my quest to publish it next year.

So, I will be documenting the creation of my first PB book here on this blog. I start a program in August that is designed to help me flesh out my book idea and get it whipped into shape for publication. Where do you come in? Simple. You can help me by providing feedback on my characters and my approach as I go through this course.

I welcome your support! Let’s do this!!!!